Posts containing my opinion of the race.

Don't Talk About the Government

It was clear that many of those attending last night's meeting were upset at "the government". Though they were able to grasp the general argument ("government is evil"), the specifics at times eluded them.

For example, many of those wanting government out of their lives were obviously Medicare-eligible. Either they've chosen not to participate in Medicare, or what they really meant was that they don't want their government-run healthcare extended to others.

The anti-government crowd was also quite interested in Massa's government-sponsored plan. Though Massa stated at the outset that he hadn't accepted the Congressional coverage available to him, he still got a couple of questions about it. At one point, while Massa was explaining yet again that he didn't take the Congressional plan, someone yelled out "but you're a Navy veteran". A fair number of the anti-government crowd was wearing veterans caps, and one of them identified himself as a West Point grad. I assume they never darken the door of the VA, lest they accidentally come in contact with their prime bogeyman, the government.

Finally, to those who were complaining that government-run healthcare would be like a trip to the DMV: from your lips to God's ears. The wait at the DMV is much shorter than the average wait in the Emergency Department, and the crowd is a lot less miserable.

Report from Mendon

I've just returned from Eric Massa's town hall meeting in the Village of Honeoye Falls in the Town of Mendon. I left after 90 minutes of the meeting. For all I know, it's still going on, since Massa said that he'd answer all the questions before he left.

When I arrived about 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the event, cars lined both sides of Route 65 for at least a half mile on either side of the Mendon Community Center. At least a couple hundred people gathered under and around a picnic shelter behind the building, where Mendon officials scrambled to get a public address system working to amplify Massa's voice.

The crowd seemed equally divided between supporters of single-payer health care, and those opposed to government-run health care. Some of the supporters of government health care were identified by signs supporting HR 676. A few of the opponents sported yellow t-shirts and caps emblazoned with, which marked them as Glenn Beck followers. Why anyone would want to be identified as such is yet another mystery of the evening.

Most of them crowd was able to keep their mouths shut while others were speaking. Unfortunately, some of the health care opponents were unable to contain their righteous fury and frequently barked out a few pet phrases to drown out Massa or his questioners. Common chants were "stop lying" to Massa, and "Free Enterprise" and "Capitalism" whenever government alternatives to private insurance were discussed.

Massa, who had to remind the crowd to be polite a number of times, took the heckling in stride. He began the meeting by displaying the current healthcare bill, HR 3200, and pointed out that he had read the whole thing. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of most of those in attendance. Instead, many had to make do with emails from right wing organizations eager to spread falsehoods about the bill.

Perhaps the most glaring example of that was a gentleman who was actually crying by the time he was done asking his question. He believed, wrongly, that some language had been added to the bill that would allow government funds to pay for abortions. Massa repeatedly and patiently explained that this was impossible, because the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of government funds to pay for abortions. This has been true since 1976, and, unfortunately, will be true for years to come, but green polo shirt in the front row wasn't going to accept Massa's answer. He thought government funds were going to be used to "kill babies".

Similarly, some poor woman was positive that she would be forced to choose the public option if she changed jobs. Leaving aside the fact that there's no really strong public option in HR 3200, Massa rightly pointed out that she'd have to take whatever insurance her new employer offered if she changed jobs. The same woman had also heard that the bill would allow the government full access to her bank account. Massa pointed out that there was a provision in the bill that all providers would have to take payments via electronic funds transfer.

Most of the healthcare opponents seemed to be a bit stymied by Massa's position on HR 3200, and by his position on other hot-button bills. He opposes HR 3200 as written because it has a weak public option. He voted against cap-and-trade. He voted against the Iraq War supplemental on the grounds that we had no exit strategy from Iraq, and therefore there's no end in sight to our spending there. Any indication of fiscal conservatism garnered wild applause from the conservatives in the audience, yet the same people applauding and yelling for some of Massa's votes were calling him a liar a few minutes later.

All the Rochester TV stations were in attendance at the meeting, along with some print reporters. Presumably, it will lead the 11:00 news. I'm not sure how it will play, but neither of the groups at this meeting will end up happy. Those supporting HR 676 will be dissatisfied because even the most robust version of HR 3200 will not include a single-payer option. The Glenn Beck listeners will be mad because the government will be more involved in healthcare than ever before.

But I'm happy because I'm done straining to hear what Massa has to say over the catcalls of a dozen teabaggers who feel the need to holler every time their elected representative says something they don't like.

Strange But Interesting Connection

Freedom Works is a group that is supporting the recent protests at Congressional town hall meetings, like the one that's supposed to occur on Thursday in Mendon. Philip Dampier, the blogger behind Stop the Cap, points out an interesting connection:

The group behind all of this, Freedom Works, is an astroturfing group I’ve dealt with before on our municipal broadband issue that I write often about on Stop the Cap! It suckers ordinary citizens into advocating against their own best interests by… well, making stuff up and scaring them. They always hide their true funding backers, pretending to be a “consumer group.”

Municipal broadband isn’t a way for local governments to supply broadband service at the speeds and pricing consumers want, it’s an ‘Obama-engineered socialist takeover of the Internet, as part of his secret campaign for stifling dissent.’ They load mostly retired folks who sit around all day listening to talk radio onto several buses and send them into various places to protest and disrupt.

We endured this nonsense in our successful battle in North Carolina, and those asking some of these people questions quickly learned they had no idea what the specific issues were — they were given basic talking points, a bus ride, and told to chant various slogans which usually had little to do with the issues at hand.

Protests vs. Disruption

Eric Massa's Thursday night meeting in Mendon will be the target of a group called "ReformNYS". In a message posted on that group's mailing list, a list member posted the following:

Lets give him [Massa] what Arlen Spector just got in PA on the "Health Care Bill"

What Spector "just got" was a bunch of people yelling during his meeting, drowning out the speakers and those who might want to ask questions.

It's worth noting that this is not at all the treatment Randy Kuhl got at his town hall meetings. I attended one meeting where there were silent protesters. At another meeting, a MoveOn representative presented Randy with some signed petitions. Everyone got a chance to speak, and nobody was drowned out.

There's nothing wrong with organizing protests outside town hall meetings, asking tough questions at those meetings, and presenting Members of Congress with petitions. Disrupting those meetings is just a stupid, bullying tactic that can only end badly.

Smugtown Followup

The Smugtown Beacon's Aaron Wicks has responded publicly to the City Newspaper story mentioned in the last post.

Aaron gives reasons why he doesn't think there's a conspiracy afoot by Republicans in petition gathering in LD-21. While doing so, he reports the facts left out of his last LD-21 story, which were reported by City and Moonbat over Monroe, and repeated by me: Wicks did circulate petitions himself, and Republicans were active in circulating petitions in LD-21.

It's a good thing whenever someone responds to criticism. In addition to his recent post, I had a cordial email exchange with Aaron, who seems like a reasonable person. But I still think my main point from the last post stands: revealing your real name and some biographical facts is no guarantee by itself that what you report is more accurate than what can be found in an anonymous blog.

It's What You Do, Not Who You Are

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post critical of the Smugtown Beacon. Philip at Stop the Cap wrote a takedown of the same post. I contacted the publisher of the Beacon to see if he had a response to either of us, but he refused to engage on the issue on the grounds that I'm an anonymous blogger.

Smugtown's position on anonymity is detailed in this post by Aaron Wicks. Wicks says that "we find most blogs (the anonymous ones, at least) to be accountable to no one", and that "we always strive to be as blunt and honest about what we observe and conclude". Wicks argues in that post that Smugtown is more trustworthy because it's possible to contact the authors of the post in real life. He says that efforts of anonymous bloggers are "akin to a whispering campaign by Klan members or Nazis".

I disagree, but instead of giving an abstract argument, I'll use a couple of Wicks' posts from the Beacon to illustrate that, despite using his real name, he's been less than transparent with his readers. Begin with this Wicks post, titled "As Summer Approaches, The Grassroots Grow ... Angrier". Wicks says that he has a "personal bias toward more political competition rather than less" and warns that "it does appear that there is objective evidence that the leadership of the Democratic party in Rochester is in for a bumpy ride over the next several weeks."

In a post this month, Wicks' prediction of a bumpy ride seems to have come true. Titled "With Friends Like These ... Dems Implode in LD21", the post details a primary challenge filed by Jan Bowers in Monroe County LD-21. Wicks makes fun of Democratic leadership for having to scramble to get some petitions filled. He ends his post on this note:

The good news? Someone who is willing to work hard and who has a handful of solid supporters can still compete with an established political party. Competition is a wonderful thing in a democracy. Democrats in LD21 learnt this recently (and may yet learn more such lessons).

Wicks is clearly trying to establish a narrative of a grassroots Democratic uprising in Rochester, and his posts make it sound like he was simply a witness to these events. The truth of the matter is that Wicks was a participant in the LD-21 petition drive, and it wasn't a Democratic uprising. According to City Newspaper, "There's one aspect of Janice Bowers' candidacy and campaign that Democrats have been quick to draw attention to: the majority of her petitions were passed by Republican operatives." According to Moonbat over Monroe, Wicks himself circulated petitions for Jan Bowers in LD-21. I contacted John Locke, who writes Moonbat, to confirm his story. Though he's clearly a partisan, he seems to get his facts straight, and he confirms that he saw those petitions himself.

None of this was disclosed by Wicks in his posts. In an earlier post on the site, Wicks does reveal that he worked for Jan Bowers' husband on a 2007 campaign, but there's no mention of his earlier relationship with the Bowers in his current work.

If I started reading the Smugtown Beacon in June and trusted that Aaron Wicks to give me the facts on the Democratic primaries, I'd have been completely misled. I'd have mistaken what appears to be an effort by Wicks and the Republicans to embarrass the MCDC for a real grassroots uprising.

So what does it matter if I know Wicks' real name and bio if he decides to mislead me? That's my point on anonymity.

(By the way, anyone who's been reading this blog for a while knows that I have a low opinion of the MCDC, so this has nothing to do with the politics in LD-21. )

Whatever Happened to Malpractice Reform?

Next year, Tom Reed is going to be selling himself as someone who can get things done in Washington. In order to make that sale, he needs to be part of a functioning opposition party. In the last 6 months, we've seen nothing but dysfunction from the Republican leadership. Their strategy is to do nothing and wait for Obama or the Democrats to screw up. But doing nothing means that some parts of the Republican agenda that could be getting done aren't going to happen.

Malpractice reform, a.k.a. "tort reform", is one prime example of something the Republicans could get if they would bother to engage. Tort reform has been a key part of the Republican healthcare agenda for the last 20 years. Every Republican politician, conservative talk show host and right-leaning pundit has mentioned it as one of the key requirements for changing our healthcare system. Even President Obama has signaled that he'd accept some kind of tort reform.

The Democratic rank-and-file has no interest in tort reform. In order for tort reform to make it into the healthcare bill, Republicans would have to come to the table with some possible votes and negotiate to get it into the bill. Though the current bill is far from finished, the latest reports indicate that tort reform isn't part of the bill. The reason is simple: the negotiation going on right now is between Nancy Pelosi and the "Blue Dogs", not Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner.

Polls have shown that Americans are willing to accept tort reform as part of a healthcare package. As one healthcare expert put it:

The public isn't pushing hard for malpractice reform but will be happy to have it if the lawyers, doctors, administration and Congress can agree to a plan [...]

There's no reason that tort reform couldn't be part of the current healthcare bill -- no reason, that is, other than incompetent leadership driven by petulant, bullheaded stubbornness. This is the leadership that Tom Reed will be serving if he goes to Washington. Why would anyone want a Representative from a party that has specifically chosen to get nothing done?

Dunning's Take on Corning Inc

Reader Elmer sent me Joe Dunning's Sunday column on Sunday, but I screwed up and forgot to post it. It's here [pdf].

Dunning took a look at Eric Massa's financial disclosure, which contains a number of donations from Corning, Inc and Corning executives. Dunning's explanation for why a typically Republican corporation would put $10K in Massa's pocket is worth a read in full, but I hadn't heard this before:

There may also be some backlash against Reed, who announced he’s not seeking re-election as Corning Mayor in the midst of his first term. The company strongly supported Reed in his successful bid in 2007 to unseat Democrat Mayor Frank Coccho in hopes of securing the office for a number of years.

There were those who felt Reed jumped ship too early for his own political gain, allowing Coccho back into the political picture with his own bid to regain the mayorship. Those who donated to Reed's campaign against Coccho might not be so eager to give to his congressional campaign.

Dunning is an apolitical straight-shooter, so I think this reflects a real sentiment in Corning rather than a political talking point.

Post-Doc in Stupidity

The Smugtown Beacon has a new contributor, Susan Edelman. Here's her august list of qualifications:

Susan Edelman has a Ph.D. in Economics from Stanford University. In addition, Ms. Edelman was an economist at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Department of Defense. She also was on the Columbia University Business School faculty, and locally, worked in market research with Harris Interactive. Susan was a post-doc in the now defunct UofR Public Policy Analysis Program.

Her first post, despite having 8 footnotes, is a great example of how someone can pile up degrees and learn nothing about one's supposed area of expertise. Almost every paragraph shows a pretty shocking ignorance of the basics of her topic, which is a mishmash of Sarah Palin and Eric Massa's position on Time-Warner cable.

I'm going to pick apart just one terrible paragraph, otherwise I'd be here all night.

ACT THREE: In which the economist notes that private firms, like TWC and CBS, can run their firms any way they wish (assuming no laws are broken; not even suggested here). In a market economy, consumers show displeasure with a product by buying something else. There are substitutes for TWC/Road Runner and Letterman/CBS, e.g., Frontiernet and Conan/NBC. (And don’t tell the economist that DSL is not the same as RR: they’re both ISPs and provide the same content. See comments in Computer Link Magazine Saying that RR is better because it’s faster only means that it is a superior product, and we expect quality to cost more.)

The first sentence makes no sense. Eric Massa proposed more regulation of TWC -- he's saying "there ought to be a law". It's perfectly appropriate for a legislator to suggest legislation, and it's no argument against it to say that companies aren't breaking current law.

The rest of that paragraph also shows a complete lack of understanding of what's on offer from an ISP, and of monopoly economics. First, TWC and Frontier don't "provide content". They provide a conduit over which content is delivered, so all that matters is speed and reliability. Second, consumers can't "show their displeasure" by buying something else in most of the Southern Tier: RoadRunner is the only service available for most of Eric Massa's constituents. Finally, an economist should know that a duopoly is not a free market, that duopolies almost always lead to collusion and price-fixing, and therefore consumers don't have real choice in such a market.

The fundamental problem with Edelman's post is that she is trying to dodge Massa's reasonable claim that ISPs got a "pass" that's not provided to other public utilities. She makes the crazy statement that only two owners of "information transmission lines" have been government owned or regulated. Her examples are AT&T and the USPS. What about cable TV, which is regulated by franchise agreements in most cities and states?

And why is information different from all the other things transmitted to or from our houses over public right-of-way? Gas, electricity, water and sewer are either government-owned or heavily regulated. The onus is on Ms Edelman to explain why Internet service is in a different category.

Normally, I wouldn't bother with junk like Ms Edelman's post, but it's scary that someone so ignorant has advised the FCC as an "economist". This really is a new low for the Smugtown Beacon, which occasionally publishes some interesting stuff.

Kuhl Keeping it Classy

Reader Don sends WETM's teaser for a Randy Kuhl interview, which contains this gem from the former Representative:

You know when I first ran for public office way back in 1980 I took it with the understanding that someday people are going to want hamburger instead of steak.

Randy's planning on supporting Tom Reed next year. Perhaps Reed will have a better strategy for luring back Republicans who voted for Massa: one that doesn't include insulting them.

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